RENO — A jury Tuesday began deliberating the fate of former power broker Harvey Whittemore, who is accused of unlawfully funneling more than $133,000 in contributions to the re-election campaign of U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
The jury received the case about 1:20 p.m. after several hours of closing arguments to a standing-room crowd in the courtroom of Senior U.S. District Judge Larry Hicks.
The large, eighth-floor courtroom was packed with Whittemore family members and friends, as well as federal prosecutors and investigators.
By 6 p.m., the jury left for the evening and planned to resume deliberations at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday.
In his closing remarks, Eric Olshan, a trial attorney with the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section in Washington, told the jury that Whittemore was the “ultimate insider” when he schemed to get the Reid campaign the money in March 2007.
“Harvey Whittemore was king of the hill,” Olshan said. “He never imagined that he would get caught. Not in a million years did he think he would be sitting here today.”
Whittemore’s lead defense lawyer, Dominic Gentile, called the government’s case weak and said Whittemore, an experienced campaign fundraiser, would never put his family and trusted employees in “harm’s way.”
Gentile argued that Whittemore did not “knowingly” violate campaign contribution laws and did nothing to hide his efforts to raise money for Reid.
Gentile also criticized FBI agents for not recording a February 2012 interview with Whittemore that led to a charge of lying to the agents.
Whittemore, 59, an attorney and onetime influential lobbyist, faces four felony counts: making excessive campaign contributions, making contributions in the name of another, making a false statement to the FBI and causing a false statement to be made to the Federal Election Commission
He is accused of using family members and employees of his former development company, Wingfield Nevada Group, as “conduits” for illegal contributions to Friends for Harry Reid.
Prosecutors alleged during the two-week trial that Whittemore made payments to his surrogates and encouraged them to make the maximum contributions.
He exploited people who trusted him and “whose participation was guaranteed,” Olshan told the jury.
Gentile, however, said none of the surrogates “sensed” that Whittemore was doing something wrong.
Whittemore, who spends most of his time now as a developer, maintained during the high-profile trial that his family members used their own money to contribute to Reid’s campaign. Any payments to Wingfield Nevada employees were “unconditional” gifts, he contended.
But prosecutors argued Tuesday it doesn’t matter how the payments are described because the evidence showed Whittemore was the source of the funds, and that violated campaign laws enacted to ensure a level playing field.
“This is a highly orchestrated and planned event,” First Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Myhre said in his closing argument rebutting the defense.
Whittemore funneled money to the Reid campaign through “concealment, deception and deceit,” all to increase his own personal stature,” Myhre argued.
“It’s about him. It’s about his power,” Myhre said. “It’s about his prestige. That’s why he did it.”
Prosecutors during the trial called an array of Whittemore family members and employees who acknowledged on the witness stand, some reluctantly, that Whittemore gave them the money to contribute to Reid’s campaign.
The prosecution alleged that Whittemore duped the Nevada Democrat’s campaign committee into believing the contributions came from the individuals.
Throughout the trial, Whittemore was actively engaged in his defense, frequently consulting with his team of lawyers from the Gordon Silver law firm.
But he did not take the witness stand in his own defense.
Neither side called Reid to testify, and prosecutors did not provide testimony from the lead Las Vegas FBI agent in the case, April French.
Contact reporter Jeff German at email@example.com or 702-380-8135. Follow@JGermanRJ.